People lose their jobs for various reasons. Whether you have been laid off, wrongfully terminated or fired as a result of performance or conduct, losing a job is almost always a stressful turn of events.
While no one likes to lose their job, those who are terminated for unjust reasons feel particularly victimized. If you feel you have been unlawfully terminated, there are various legal options available to you. Employment lawyers specialize in cases involving wrongful termination. Their expertise can help right the wrong you have suffered; this may mean restitution of your job or monetary damages to soften your transition.
If you have been wrongfully terminated or have had your employment contract violated, a lawyer experienced in employment law can help you evaluate your options.
If you feel your employer terminated your job without just cause, you may be a victim of wrongful termination. Defined as discharge from employment without legal justification, wrongful termination (also called wrongful dismissal, wrongful discharge or wrongful firing) is a clear violation of your rights.
If you have an employment contract guaranteeing employment over a certain timeframe and its terms are violated by your employer, you may also be a victim of wrongful termination, in which case you are well within your rights to contact an employment attorney to discuss filing a lawsuit for breach of contract. In fact, even if you have nothing more than a verbal contract with your employer, you have certain protections based on that agreement. Violation of a verbal contract is considered a breach of implied contract and can be grounds for legal action.
Common examples of wrongful termination include job loss resulting from:
- Refusing the sexual advances of a superior (workplace harassment)
- Violation of employment contract
- Discrimination (Based on race, gender, age, religion, politics, etc.)
- Retaliation for reporting illegal activity
"At-Will" vs. Contract Employment
There are two general categories of employment: at-will and contract. At-will employees do not have a formal contract of employment, meaning that they can be terminated at any time. Contract employees have certain predetermined terms of employment, often including compensation and duration of employment. Many employment contracts guarantee employment unless the contract is breached in some manner (inappropriate conduct, harassment, etc.).
Although at-will employees may not have the same protections as contract employees, they are protected against wrongful termination and employment discrimination.
Rights of the Employed
Your employment rights are protected by the Department of Labor (DOL), civil rights acts and Equal Employment Opportunity (EE0) laws. This includes protection from wrongful termination and discrimination in the workplace. If you are terminated due to a discriminatory action or decision, or for reasons not related to job performance or conduct, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer(s) and be entitled to compensation.
Workplace discrimination is a common occurrence. Cases of employment termination due to age, sex, nationality, race, religion, political beliefs or any other discriminatory reason are grounds for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the employer.
Preparing for a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
If you feel that you have been a victim of wrongful termination, it is extremely important that you remain calm, and speak with an employment lawyer immediately. Here are some factors that should be taken into consideration:
- If you get angry, loud or violent towards your employer, you pose a serious risk to the integrity of your case.
- If your employer keeps an employee file, ask for a copy for your attorney to view.
- If you are offered a severance package, consult with your attorney before signing or approving anything. Acceptance of a severance package could potentially wave liability and prevent the filing of a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Avoid contact with your employer, coworkers or other company representative(s) outside the knowledge of your attorney.
Wrongful termination lawsuits are often aimed at awarding monetary damages, which may include punitive damages for blatant violations; however, victims of wrongful termination may also file for reinstatement of employment and/or for penalties to be placed on the at-fault company.
Some employment contracts have an "at-will" clause included in the agreement that reserves the right of the employer to terminate employment at any time. An employment lawyer can help you determine whether your contract protects you from termination.
Timing is important when it comes to filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. The statutory deadline for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit varies by state.